Stanislav Máselník

Konzervativní revoluce v Čechách a na Moravě?

Přichází “konzervativní revoluce”? Ano, tedy alespoň v podobě pěkné knížky mladého myslitele Andreje Duhana Konzervativní revoluce: Ideové základy nové konzervativní pravice (2022, Books & Pipes). V českém prostředí se jedná o raritu: jde o první pokus promyslet budoucnost konzervativního myšlení v jiném než liberálním hávu. Je tady sice Václava Klause st. a jeho sociálně-konzervativní postoje (v kombinaci s volnotržním přístupem k ekonomice), ale v případě bývalého prezidenta nebyly nikdy formulovány v jedné konzistentní publikaci. To se díky Andreji Duhanovi mění na plné škále politických, kulturních, hospodářských i mezinárodních témat, kterým se navíc věnuje velmi čtivým, přístupným jazykem.

Autor vychází z toho, že na Západě je konzervatismus v krizi, jelikož se nechal “kolonizovat” liberalismem, ať už ve své levicové či libertariánské podobě, a to ve společenské i ekonomické sféře. Andrej Duhan na dnešním, “měkkém” konzervatismus kritizuje obojí a poukazuje, jak se stal hlasatelem neomezeného volného trhu, maximalizace efektivity a individualismu a víry, že každé řešení se dá omezit na ekonomické rozhodnutí. Do budoucnosti by chtěl načrtnout možné přístupy k (jen) zdánlivém protimluvu: konzervativní revoluci. Ta by měla být “výzvou k opuštění starých dogmat, definování role konzervatismu pro dnešek a vzepření se liberálnímu konsensu, který je v souhrnu v rozporu s tím, co by měl konzervatismus reprezentovat” (s. 15). Jinými slovy, umírněný konzervatismus už nestačí – rezignoval na své stěžejní hodnoty a tím upevnil převládající liberální ideologii. Obhajovat, konzervovat současný stav je proto hloupost, kterou si podle Duhana konzervatismus nemůže dovolit. Musí vyhrát kulturní válku – a proto některým svým starým reflexům navzdory musí žádat revoluci (s. 241). To vše je čtenáři narýsováno pěkně a přesně, proto je škoda, že není doplněna i trocha historie pojmu “konzervativní revoluce” a jak se na něj dnes snaží navázat francouzská nová pravice nebo další evropské myšlenkové směry.

Na tomto odrazovém můstku se Andrej Duhan vrhá do definice toho, “co konzervatismus je”, aby se postupně zabýval identitou a směřováním Západu, výzvami, se kterými se bude muset poprat (způsob vedení politiky obecně, budoucnost národního státu, místo demokracie ve společnosti, kapitalismus a Evropská unie). Tím se přesouvá k rozboru hrozeb (“Antizápad”, masová imigrace, radikální islám) a na závěr pokládá otázku nad fungováním liberálního řádu jako takového a možnosti jeho překonání.

K jinak skvělé a přínosné knize mám pouze dvě výhrady a jednu menší výtku. Tu první z nich nastínil ve své recenzi politolog Petr Drulák: Andrej Duhan se nezabývá kritikou kapitalismu s dostatečným důrazem. Sice odmítá to, co označuje za jeho excesy například v podobě přílišné privatizace, hrabivosti, individualismu nebo negativních jevů globalizace, ale v důsledku nedělá rozdíl mezi tržní ekonomikou a kapitalismem. Kapitalismus je podle autora potřeba regulovat, svázat potřebám širší společnosti a tak mu “nastavit meze”. S tím nelze než souhlasit a autor přitom dochází k vysoce zajímavým postřehům, například jak dobývání renty postupně nahrazuje zisk (s. 106), nebo když ukazuje, že univerzální příjem je v podstatě způsob, jak zafixovat současnou podobu globálního kapitalismu (s. 110). Je proto škoda, že si neklade otázku, jestli kapitalismus “ochočitelný” vůbec je. Stavění rovnítka mezi levicí, kritikou kapitalismu a “nebezpečným fantazírováním” je zkratkovitý přístup (s. 112), ať už proto, že jeho odpůrci jsou i v pravicové části politického spektra, nebo (a především) proto, že k takovému tázání existují pádné důvody. Když Duhan říká, že “volný trh závisí na zdravé společnosti” (Duhan 2022, 99), myslí tím také silná rodinná pouta, zdravý venkov a funkční komunitní vazby, nebo převládání jiných než materialistických hodnot. Do jaké míry je však radikálně-revoluční nátura kapitalismu zodpovědná za to, že ničí vše, co se příčí logice neustálé akumulace kapitálu? Fordistický model ekonomiky s ideálem baťovsky zodpovědného podnikatele, který autor nabízí jako ideál (s. 102–3), není řešením mimo jiné proto, že jeho dalším vývojovým stádiem je právě současný ekonomický model kasínového, finančního kapitalismu. Je také dobré mít na paměti, že dystopická společnost věčně šťastného, konzumeristického blahobytu, kterou Aldous Huxley popisuje ve svém Konci civilizace, má za svůj vzor Fordův výrobní pás.

Zkrátka, nelze souhlasit s kladením rovnítka mezi kapitalismus a společnost s trhy a různými tržními mechanismy: tento rozdíl zachytil skvěle ve svém díle Velká transformace ekonom Karl Polanyi (1886-1964). Pro skutečnou konzervativní revoluci by Duhan, stejně jako konzervativci v jiných zemích, měli udělat ještě jeden krok a to je rozpoznání kapitalismu jako “totální společenského fenoménu” (termín francouzského sociologa Marcela Mausse), který při svém pohybu ničí veškeré pevné a stabilní instituce. Konzervativcům by tak paradoxně prospělo přečíst si Karla Marxe, jenž, ačkoli jinou cestou, dochází ke stejnému závěru. (V Komunistickém manifestu se dočteme: “Buržoazní epocha se od všech dřívějších epoch liší převraty ve výrobě, ustavičnými otřesy společenských vztahů, věčnou nejistotou a pohybem. Všechny pevné, zrezivělé poměry a staré ctihodné představy a názory se rozkládají, všechny nově utvořené zastarávají, dříve než mohou zkostnatět.”) Také vzhledem k tomu, že kapitalismus není pouze hospodářský systém, centrálně řízená ekonomika k němu není alternativou (o té koneckonců v případě reálně socialistických ekonomik mnozí autoři hovoří jako o “státním kapitalismu”, předzvěsti tohoto vývoje najdeme už v pracích Michaila Bakunina). Duhan další cestu naznačuje sám: je nutné podrobněji studovat neortodoxní ekonomické teorie (s. 68), které by dokázaly vhodně zkombinovat tržní mechanismy, širokou decentralizaci, subsidiaritu i prvky plánování a státních zásahů do ekonomiky. Konzervativci by se neměli štítit přehodnocení díla Karla Marxe, neortodoxní socialistických směrů (anarchistů, mutualistů, syndikalistů, demokratických socialistů, hodnotové kritiky), německé historické školy, Josepha Schumpetera, alternativních liberálních ekonomů jako Maurice Allais, nebo post-keynesiánských autorů. V případě zachování otevřené mysli existují podnětné příspěvky napříč celým politických spektrem. Cestou může být i vnitřní “pravo-levé” štěpení v rámci širšího populistického proudu, jak o něm hovoří Petr Drulák mimo jiné ve výše uvedené recenzi.

Za druhé je škoda, že v knize věnované konzervativní revoluci se autor trochu podrobněji nezabývá tím, jak by se měla uskutečnit. Jistě, její potřebu uznává a nezamítá koncept revoluce jako levicový. Cesta jak postupovat je nicméně načrtnutá pouze zkratkovitě: skrze obratu k společenské většině, tedy k pracujícím, voličům z malých měst a střední třídě. To pro Duhana znamená jak maximální podpora demokracie (“Demokracii dnes neohrožuje tyranie masy, ale diktát elit,” s. 68) jako nejlepšího nástroje proti liberálnímu establishmentu, tak nutnost konzervativců účastnit se v tzv. kulturních válkách. Je to určitě dobrý start, který by autor mohl využít pro další reflexi do budoucna.

Puntičkář by na závěr mohl podotknout, že veškerá projednávaná politická témata by si zasloužila i filozofické zamyšlení. Například do jaké míry je za současný stav společnosti a za vývoj liberalismu zodpovědná samotná modernita. Nebo konzervativní reflexe nad otázkou pokroku a techniky, které autor přijímá pouze z jejich pozitivní stránky (s. 55). Ale to už by bylo k Andreji Duhanovi nespravedlivé, protože k tomu političtěji orientovaná práce nenabízí správný prostor. Tato knižní vlaštovka si totiž zaslouží veškerou čtenářskou pozornost – ať už těch, pro které by byl příchod konzervativní revoluce do Čech a na Moravu svěžím politickým vánkem, nebo opozičních kritiků, kteří v ní najdou příležitost vypilovat své protiargumenty.

Duhan, Andrej. 2022. Konzervativní revoluce: Ideové základy nové konzervativní pravice. Brno: Books & Pipes, 255 s.

Čtenářský výběr: ústupkář Kissinger, ekologie a zastarávání technologií

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Přinášíme vám výběr zajímavých zpráv a publikací, které nás v posledních týdnech zaujaly – od mezinárodní politiky až po ekologii a technologie. Anglická verze článku je dostupná zde.

Starý ústupkář Kissinger

Henry Kissinger zhřešil: navzdory své reputaci tvrdého bojovníka let dob studené války si tento 99 letý geostratég vysloužil mnoho zklamaných komentářů od účastníků Světového ekonomického fóra, a to když vyzval k rychlému diplomatickému urovnání konfliktu na Ukrajině. Jak? Tím, že Ukrajina uzná situaci na bojišti a postoupí některá území: jmenovitě Krym, nad nímž už od roku 2014 nemá tak či tak žádnou kontrolu, a okupované oblasti Donbasu. I když se taková rada může vzhledem k narůstající eskalaci konfliktu jevit jako poměrně rozumný přístup – a čím dříve by byla přijata, tím lépe pro Ukrajinu i Evropu – v Davosu si těmito slovy mnoho pochopení nezískal. Jeden ukrajinský poslanec odpověděl, že Kissinger zřejmě “stále žije ve 20. století”, kdežto nizozemský premiér Mark Rutte pocítil nutkání vyjádřit svůj “oficiální nesouhlas”. Mychajlo Podoljak, poradce prezidenta Zelenského, byl poněkud méně diplomatický a na svém Twitteru napsal, že Ukrajina na panikáře z Davosu nemá čas a Kissinger by navíc klidně obětoval i Polsko a Litvu, pokud by to zastavilo válku.

Ti, kdo dnes Kissingera obviňují z “appeasementu”, zapomínají, že podobné kritice čelil již dříve, když ještě v letech 1969-1977 hrál klíčovou roli v americké zahraniční politice. Tehdy by pro jedny ze svých kritiků válečným štváčem, zatímco washingtonské jestřáby zklamala jeho politika détente (mírového soužití) se Sovětským svazem a navázání vztahů s “komunistickou Čínou”. Kissingerovým trumfem bylo, že dokázal hrát s kartami války i diplomacie: v tom samém roce 1973 podepsal Pařížské mírové dohody, které vedly ke stažení amerických vojsk z Vietnamu, aby o pár měsíců zapojil USA do vojenského převratu v Chile, který vynesl k moci později nechvalně proslulého diktátora Augusta Pinocheta. Jinými slovy, Kissinger byl v prvé řadě zastánce Realpolitik s vytříbeným citem pro to, který ze dvou nástrojů zahraniční politiky si daný okamžik právě žádá. Už to by mělo být dostatečným důvodem k tomu, abychom jeho rady dostatečně ocenili. (V nedávném rozhovoru pro Financial Times ke svému postoji připojil i další argument: nevehnat Rusko do náručí Číny.)

Šlo válce zabránit?

To je pochopitelně jedna z klíčových otázek současných debat, které obvykle dospějí k rozuzlení až po mnoha letech, kdy historici získají přístup ke státním archivům. Přesto se k tématu vyjádřil kanadský profesor politologie Ivan Katchanovski (odborník na Rusko a Ukrajinu na univerzitě v Ottawě), který se opírá o analýzu situace před začátkem ruské invaze. Tvrdí, že dohoda o neutrálním statusu Ukrajiny a plnění minských dohod by mír skutečně zachovaly. Reagoval tím na výroky kanadské velvyslankyně v Ukrajině Larisy Galadzové, která v rozhovoru Putina vylíčila jako iracionálního blázna a konflikt zhodnotila tak, že mu nikdo nemohl zabránit v tom, “že udělal co udělal”. Podle Katchanovského k takovému závěru nejsou dostatečné důkazy, zvláště s přihlédnutím k tomu, že snahy ukončit boje na Donbase diplomatickou cestu probíhaly od roku 2014.

Spíše chodcem nežli vůdcem

Sylvain Tesson, francouzský spisovatel a cestovatel (zkrátka dobrodruh), je možná až příliš skromný, pokud jde o moudrost, které si přiučil při putování po světě. Tento autor v České republice málo známý autor (v překladu vyšly dvě z jeho knížek) v nedávném rozhovoru pro Figaro Vox ukazuje, že tišší tao života má svou vlastní sílu, což je zřejmé zvlášť v porovnání s poněkud samolibým a vychloubačným vystupováním druhého z dotazovaných, levicového filosofa a novináře Régise Debraye. Tesson medituje o dvou cestách, které se nám nabízejí k tomu, abychom čelili času: buď “stavění katedrál” v titánském vzdoru vůči jeho toku, nebo rozjímání nad jeho třpytem ve snaze plně prožít okamžiky štěstí a nádhery, které nabízí. Epikurejský hédonista a další francouzský myslitel Michel Onfray by s ním nepochybně souhlasil… Poutníkova prozíravost totiž spočívá v tom, že sklízí zkušenosti, spíše než odměny a vavříny. Nebo jak to také Tesson podává v jedné znělé větě, je to o tom “být spíše chodcem nežli vůdcem, a nežli pletichářem spíše hraničářem.” I když se tyto webové stránky jmenují “Evropský stratég”, přiznávám, že bych mnohem raději kráčel v Tessonových svižných stopách, než po digitalizovaných dálnicích vedoucích do výšin v Davosu… Naši čtenáři si mohou udělat vlastní úsudek v případě, že ovládají francouzštinu a budou mít přístup k tomuto velmi zajímavému rozhovoru (který je bohužel přístupný pouze pro předplatitele novin Figaro).

Zastarávání technologií snižuje růst produktivity

To je přinejmenším závěr výzkumné práce, jejíž autorkou je Seda Basihos (“Blue Screen of Death? Obsolescence and Structural Change in the Computer Age”, momentálně v rámci recenzního řízení). Seda Basihos tvrdí, že rychlé zastarávání zejména výpočetní techniky ohrožuje hospodářský růst. Každé digitální řešení se sebou přináší nové problémy, což vede ke zvyšující se míře zastarávání počítačových systémů – s každou novou aktualizací softwaru, změnou hardwaru nebo zrušením dlouhodobé OEM podpory. Jak se tempo výměny technologií zrychluje, zaměstnanci musí opakovaně měnit své pracovní postupy. V důsledku toho se výroba stává relativně kapitálově náročnější, ale tento nárůst kapitálu v poměru k počtu pracovních míst nevede ke zvýšení produktivity. Zajímavé čtení, se kterým se ztotožní každý, kdo denně v kanceláři bojuje s desítkami a stovkami e-mailů.

K nahrazení jedné jaderné elektrárny je třeba 50 až 150 tisíc větrných

Jean-Marc Jancovici je inženýr, konzultant a odborník na klima a energetiku. Podobně jako v případě Sylvaina Tessona není příliš známý za hranicemi Francie. Zastává poměrně nekonformí přístup k ekologii a na mainstreamové návrhy boje proti klimatickým změnám se dívá skepticky. Na jedné straně je zastáncem šetrnějšího využívání přírodních zdrojů, neboť se domnívá, že přechod od fosilních paliv k jiným surovinám (například těch potřebných k výrobě elektromobilů) nemá velkou cenu bez řešení celkové spotřeby naší společnosti. Na druhou stranu považuje za jeden z nejlepších zdrojů jadernou energii, která podle jeho názoru méně nevýhod než jiné možnosti. Čtenáři se mohou s jeho názory blíže seznámit v nedávném rozhovoru, kde například uvádí, že k výrobě 1 kWh elektřiny je v jaderné energetice zapotřebí 10 až 50krát méně surovin než v případě solární nebo větrné energie. Podle jeho odhadu to znamená, že k nahrazení jedné jaderné elektrárny je třeba postavit 50 až 150 tisíc větrných elektráren.

Reader’s Digest: Kissinger the Terrible, technology obsolescence and productivity…

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The European Strategist bring you a selection of interesting news and publications that captured our attention in the last weeks – from international politics, to ecology and technology. The Czech version of this article can be found here.

Kissinger the Terrible

Henry Kissinger committed a sin: despite his credentials as a Cold War hardliner, the 99-year old American geostrategist disappointed quite a few attendees of the World Economic Forum by calling for a quick diplomatic settlement in Ukraine. How? By Ukraine acknowledging the reality on the ground and ceding territories to Russia: Crimea, over which they have no control since the 2014 coup d’état in Kiev, as well as occupied areas of Donbas. While such advice, given the escalatory trajectory of the conflict, would seem as a rather sensible one– and the sooner taken, the better perhaps for both Ukraine and Europe – at Davos it did not earn him much comprehension. One Ukrainian MP suggested Kissinger ‘still lives in the 20th century’, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte felt the need to declare his ‘official disagreement’. Mykhailo Podolyak, Adviser to President Zelensky, was even less diplomatic, tweeting that Ukraine has no time to listen to such panickers, while simultaneously accussing Kissinger that he would also give up Poland and Lithuania if it stopped the war.

Those who accuse Kissinger of ‘appeasement’ forget that he faced such criticism before when he still played a key role in the US foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. For one side of his opponents, he was a warmonger, while for the others his détente with the Soviet Union and opening of relations with the ‘communist China’, felt well below the expectations of the Washington hawks. In fact, a key factor of Kissinger’s success was that could play with both the cards of war and diplomacy, simultaneously involving the US in the 1973 Chilean military coup that brought the dictator Pinochet to power, and signing within the same year the Paris Peace Accords that led to the withdrawal from Vietnam. In other words, Kissinger has been foremost an adherent to Realpolitik, with a keen sense for which of the two instruments of foreign policy a given moment calls for. This should be a sufficient reason to give sufficient credit to his advice. (Along with the bigger picture of not driving Russia towards China, which he had pointed out in a recent interview for Financial Times.)

Could the war have been prevented?

This is of course one of the subjects of on-going debate, which is usually resolved only many years later as historians gain access to relevant archives. However, looking at the situation prior to the start of the Russian invasion, Canadian political science professor Ivan Katchanovski (expert on Russia and Ukraine at the University of Ottawa) argues that an agreement on neutrality and fulfilment of the Minsk accords would have preserved peace. He thus reacted to comments made by Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Larisa Galadza, who had depicted Putin as irrational and claimed no one could stop him ‘doing what [he] did’. Katchanovski argues this is not supported by the evidence we have, including that since 2014, there was an effort to end fighting in the Donbas region diplomatically.

To be a walker rather than a leader

Sylvain Tesson, French writer and traveller (or ‘travelling writer’?) is far too modest about the wisdom that he acquired along his multiple adventures around the world. Little known outside of his native France, in a recent interview at Figaro Vox, his quiet tao shows its force against somewhat boastful and self-congratulory remarks of the second interlocutor, philosopher and journalist Régis Debray. Tesson meditates on two paths that are given to us to face time: either ‘building cathedrals’ in a titanesque defiance of its current, or contemplating its shine in an effort to fully live through its moments of happiness and splendour. No doubt, the epicurean hedonist Michel Onfray would agree… The pilgrim’s sagacity is to grasp and harvest what one can, in experience rather than in laurels or rewards. In one beautiful phrase, ‘to be a walker rather than a leader, a prowler of the edges rather than a schemer.’ Despite that this website bears the title ‘European Strategist’, I would much more happilly follow in Tesson’s brisk footstep, on a country path, rather than on a hyper-connected asphalt road leading up to the fortress in Davos… Our readers can judge for their own and even more so if they have access to this fascinating interview (which is unfortunately for subscribers only.)

Technology obsolescence reduces productivity growth

This is the conclusion of a research paper by Seda Basihos (“Blue Screen of Death? Obsolescence and Structural Change in the Computer Age”, pending peer review). The author argues that rapid obsolescence, particularly in computing, is not going well with economic growth. Every digital solution creates new problems, leading to increasing rates of obsolescence of computer systems – and this comes with every software update, hardware change, or withdrawal of OEM support. As the replacement rate of technology accelerates, also workers have to continually re-learn their jobs. In consequence, also production becomes relatively more capital-intensive, but this increase in capital per workes does not lead to greater productivity. An interesting reading that corresponds to the day-to-day experience of any office employee having to battle through dozens or hundreds of e-mails a day!

To replace one nuclear power plant, you need 50 – 150,000 wind turbines

Jean-Marc Jancovici is an engineering consultant, energy and climate expert, who is well-known – in France. He is also one of the non-conformist supporters of greening our societies, who regards the mainstream proposals to fight climate change with quite some scepticism. On one hand, he is an advocate of greater resource-sobriety, since he believes that shifting from using fossil fuels to depending on other raw materials (for example, to build battery electric vehicles) without addressing the overall level of consumption is not a solution. On the other, he sees nuclear power as a good source of energy, which has comparably less downsides than other options. Readers can see more of his views in a recent interview, where he stipulates that 10 to 50 times less materials are required to produce 1 kWh of electricity with the nuclear than with solar or wind powerplants. In his estimate, this entails that replacing one nuclear power plant necessitates constructing between 50 to 150 thousand wind turbines.

Brave New World – Huxley’s and Ours

After two years of living through Covid restrictions, as well as pondering through several weeks of the ongoing war in Ukraine, I concluded the time might be ripe to open Aldous Huxley’s opus Brave New World. While I am interested in the tendencies that drive European societies towards multiplying the means of technical and social control for some time, the book has been escaping me until this point. There it is – a proof that every crisis is also an opportunity, at least an intellectual one. The fact remains that Brave New World appears in our mental landscape as one of those works that are often referred to already due to bearing a catchy title, but not so much read. A mistake! With all its warning signs that it offers, writings like these are made to be pored over precisely at times like nowadays: when everything seems crystal clear, when media, experts and politicians in unison sign the tune of there being no alternative, it is the moment of greatest danger for independent thought. And therefore also for human beings who no longer deem it worthy to dust off the cover of old tomes.

In fact, Huxley is anything but outdated. It reads as if it was written by a contemporary.
There might be these minor details which betray that this relatively short novel was written back in 1932 (such as the over-emphasis of “neo-Pavlovian” conditioning of people, which would be likely replaced today by genetic engineering), but this does not throw us off the main message. The author’s utopia-dystopia is also surprisingly mild in its coercive mechanisms, at least to anybody who lived through Covid passes, QR codes and the images of quarantines coming recently from China. And not only them. In their place, Brave New World sprays its dissidents and nonconformists by soma, which is otherwise a “regular” happiness drug, which is compulsively used and expected to be used by population. In this our society is much more instructive and demonstrates that the rule of science, feely-happy consumerism, mass culture and erasure of history and literature is perfectly compatible with its enforcement by Orwellian means. Such a combination of Huxley’s soft and Orwell’s hard methods of ensuring the masses fall in line is more accurately portrayed for example in George Lucas’ film THX 1138, which, however, benefits from its release in 1971. The whip – or at least the tacit threat of its use – is for those who are not willing to swallow the sugar. They form a perfect duo.

The imperative of Brave New World denizens is to be always happy. Greeting fellow dweller with anyting but an ear-to-ear grin of an American TV show is a betrayal of community values. And being sad is an outright flaw, a condition that needs to be treated immediately by a few grammes of soma, as good citizens will remind each other of, using one of the catchy phrases taught to them during their Pavlovian childhood conditioning. Being happy-go-lucky means to consume: sex and fleeting relationships from early childhood, meaningless films, which however emulate senses in a kind of virtual reality, or enjoying effortless “sports” that offer no danger or exertion. The pitiful character of Linda, an inhabitant of Brave New World, who involuntarily ended up stuck for two decades in one of the few remaining “savage reservations”, where people outside civilisation still live in primitive conditions, demonstrates the level of addiction to these triffles and distractions. The moment of her return to society – for which she is overjoyed – she sinks into dependence on high doses of soma, to the extent of quickly destroying her health. Any effort to rouse her from this stupor, a metaphor for their human condition as a whole, ends up in bouts of anger, confusion and, ultimately, incomprehension of why anyone would like to be released from this rosy, ever-cheerful simulated reality. This golden cage just like in a Plato’s cave, makes its entrapped prisoners feel anxiety and snap at those who would make attempt at releasing them outside.

All this makes the reader aware that such a carefully engineered, artificially conflictless society, where people are not able to gain freedom from their immediate mental and bodily condition, is thoroughly dehumanising. How could it be? Is not individual happiness such a self-evident objective, that there can be nothing wrong if it turns into a society’s supreme pursuit? Huxley guides us to a possible answer via the book’s (few) rebellious characters and, in particular, thanks to Shakespeare-reading John, a son of Linda and therefore a “savage” from the reserve. Simultaneously regarded as a curiosity and looked down upon, John sees what is hidden to the others in their bamboozled sunny state. To be “merely” happy is inhuman, it is “goats and monkeys”, it is – idiotic. Stuck in this simple frame of reference, we are cutting ourselves off from what is most properly human: understanding and trying to comprehend our being – of our person, but also of the world we live in, which are inevitably intertwined. Doped into another condition by drugs, genetic engineering, social conditioning and peer pressure, we degrade to a circumstance lower than than of an animal, as we cannot even adequately feel and react as the nature of our surroundings would command.

One example in the book is more striking than the others. As Linda lays dying in a hospital, comatose and unaware even of her impending demise, is surrounded by genetically and mentally deprived “Delta” children (Brave New World, we did not mention, is a caste society), which observe her with intrusive curiosity to the rage and vexation of her son John. Just like the nurses, they simply do not care. Not because of intent or viciousness, but because they completely lack such a capacity. Since they were artificially created in a laboratory and then socially conditioned, not brought up in a family, they neither understand childhood nor motherhood. Their world does not open up for them the possibility to be even sad, or in love, as that requires living and interacting with existence, which is not the case when they are born enclosed into a self-centric technical universe. It therefore should not surprise us that they are deprived of the ultimate characteristic that makes up the human condition and permits a comprehension of what it means to be: the mystery of death. Huxley, acting via the character of John, perceives it very clearly.

Despite this firm grip of beings of the Brave New World, this carefully designed structure is a precarious construct. Citizens might be genetically engineered into different social castes and conditioned into a certain behaviour from the earliest age, but as long as the essence of “humanness” is not completely eradicated, some tend to wake up and question beyond this tight frame into which they have been put. They ask why, how, whence and whither – at that moment, they realise their human condition, they truly are. This puts the system into jeopardy, therefore the access to nature, withdrawal to solitude, long-term relationships, or families or national belonging are discouraged or simply erased from society. As Mustapha Mond, one of the ten “World Controllers” in charge of the Brave New World’s government, quips in response to John’s question: “you can’t make tragedies without social instability”. The tragedy here stands for the nature of human life, as the Greeks knew. And while we could correct Huxley a little, because our own society’s modus operandi shows that a certain kind of order is entirely compatible with keeping population perpetually on the move and deprived of stable institutions, the choices that have been made could not be more clear.

Ultimately, in Brave New World it is John the Savage who proves himself more worthy of being human than the architects and inhabitants of its civilisation. Towards the end of the novel, he adopts the only position tenable in the face of totalitarianism commanding everyone to induced happiness: “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.” To this, Mustapha Mond replies with a deep sense of irony: “In fact, you’re claiming the right to be unhappy”. A long silence ensues, before John replies: “I claim them all.” Also our future condition might depend on whether we can grasp the sagacity of such simple, profound words.

Aldous Huxley (2013 [1932]). Brave New World. London: Everyman’s Library, 232 p.

Featured image: Brave New World, Copyright 2021 Stanislav Máselník – Reuse not allowed without author’s permission.

Reading tip of the day: “The plastic backlash”

Stephen Buranyi, “The plastic backlash: what’s behind our sudden rage – and will it make a difference?”, The Guardian (13 November 2018).

Let’s start the new year on an ecological note. Many readers likely noticed that in the recent months in Europe but also elsewhere in the world, there has been a growing momentum against the use of plastics. The dangers of plastics for environment received a high-profile publicity for instance thanks to the BBC series Blue Planet II, which dedicated six minutes of its last episode to animals who died because they were stuck in netting or with guts full of plastics.

Both individuals, groups and authorities such as the EU have been recently taking steps to reduce the use of plastics. However, getting rid of them is not as straightforward as one may think – they are everywhere, for instance, in the form of microplastics in clothes, or in tyres, from which they are being shed in a large quantity.

The article linked below was published in The Guardian in November 2018 is a very helpful overview of the history of use and manufacturing of plastics, as well as of the recent momentum that has been building against their use. Recommended reading for anybody with an interest in this worthy cause.

For inspiration, there are two quotations worth underlining in particular:

Plastic is everywhere not because it was always better than the natural materials it replaced, but because it was lighter and cheaper – so much cheaper, in fact, that it was easier to justify throwing away. Customers found this convenient, and businesses were happy to sell them a new plastic container for every soda or sandwich they bought. In the same way steel enabled new frontiers in building, plastic made possible the cheap and disposable consumer culture that we have come to take for granted. To take on plastic is in some way to take on consumerism itself. It requires us to recognise just how radically our way of life has reshaped the planet in the span of a single lifetime, and ask whether it is too much.

And

But plastic no longer seems like this. It is still immediate – it’s in our household products, coffee cups, teabags and clothing – but it seems to have escaped our ability to catch it. It slips through our fingers and our water filters and sloshes into rivers and oceans like effluent from a sinister industrial factory. It is no longer embodied by a Big Mac container on the side of the road. It has come to seem more like a previously unnoticed chemical listed halfway down the small print on a hairspray bottle, ready to mutate fish or punch a hole in the ozone layer.

Corbyn on Russia: diplomacy, evidence and common sense

Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the British Labour Party, who does not hide his adherence to principles of the “traditional left” – as opposed to the neoliberalism of the “third way”, which is still being advocated by ideological heirs of Tony Blair. Corbyn is a politician of quite a rare breed as he does not seem to give up on his principles only because it would be politically convenient to do so. This was now demonstrated by his reluctance to immediately point to Russia as the possible perpetrator of the attack by a nerve agent in Salisbury on 4 March. This earned him a lot of ire from the House of Commons as well as from English-speaking media. Keep Reading

Central Europe snubbed in the vote for EU agencies

The EU tightens the grip on the institutions in its core while leaving Central Europe behind. Equality and geographical balance are pretty words, but when it comes to making decisions, Western Europe seems to have little patience for “snivelling” Eastern neighbours who don’t tow the line.

That is undoubtedly the main message that will be taken out by citizens in the countries like Slovakia, Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic from the vote to relocate two EU agencies, which took place on Monday 20 November. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) are currently based in London, but have to be moved as a result of Brexit, which caused a fierce race between EU Member States to attract them to their national capital.

Given the supporting words of Commission President Juncker (who few months ago gave a reassuring speech in the sense that the EU is a Union “of equals”, where “its members, big or small, East or West, North or South,” would all be treated the same), there was a broadscale expectation that at least one of the two agencies will go to a Central European country. In fact, Slovakia and the Czech Republic cooperated in advance to support their respective bids – with Prague standing behind Bratislava’s effort to host EMA, while Bratislava advocated the Czech capital’s proposal to host EBA. Instead, Central Europe got snubbed and EMA will go to Amsterdam and EBA to Paris.

In practice, either Central European governments spell this injustice clearly and start to have a common position in the Council (and not just rhetorically, when speaking to domestic audience in national capitals), or this will worsen as Prague, Warsaw or Bratislava continue being sent against each other, as they scramble for small, individual concessions from Brussels.

“Architects don’t just make buildings, they create social spaces too”, interview with Bianca Gioada

EurStrat: Bianca, welcome and thanks for taking part in the first of our interview series! To introduce you to our readers, you are a young architect based in Paris who took part in several intriguing architectural projects. You also have a Master’s degree from Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest and spent a year at Architecture Department of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. Yours is a compelling personal story, so I wonder if you can tell us more about what motivated you to become an architect? And what first led you to Belgium and then to France?

Bianca: I always enjoyed drawing, ‘inventing’ and crafting objects when I was a child. In school I was keen on exact sciences. But my interest in literature, arts and crafting influenced me not to go for pure scientific studies. This led me to choose architecture. That was pretty much it. I did not have much knowledge about architecture before and had never met many architects. Once studying it, I found it fascinating and really enjoyed it. Architecture is a broad profession that covers a wide range of niches for every skill and every talent.

I studied for one year in Leuven, Belgium, at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Master of Human Settlements. This experience was defining for what followed next: professionally, it opened my mind to new concepts, and socially, because of the many international colleagues I encountered. The following year, I participated in the international competition ArtUrbain, organized by Séminaire Robert Auzellein Paris. Together with two colleagues, we received the first prize. Basically this led me to come to Paris, in the beginning for an internship and later on for a permanent position as an architect in an international architectural practice with the main office in Paris.

EurStrat: That’s quite some experience. Now let me ask you about your work. In your projects, you put a lot of emphasis on the use of traditional materials and, more broadly, on architecture that is in harmony with local surroundings. Is this your personal focus or is it a general trend in contemporary architecture? And would you say the role of architecture in towns and rural landscapes has developed a lot since modernism, the aesthetics of which many people found too “raw and cold”?

Bianca: Architecture is much more than form and aesthetics. Architects do construct things out of metal, concrete, wood, and glass, but what they really build is spaces, events, and places for living.

There is a tendency in 21st century architecture for iconic forms and their designers to get all the attention. Therefore, in the urge to innovate in a competitive field, architects often disregard focusing on people, spaces and buildings that are desirable to inhabit.

However, ideas and concepts about the purpose and place of architecture are changing a lot. The architect’s work cannot be reduced to the single role of designing buildings. On a broader scale architects can employ their skills in design by drawing on multiple fields of knowledge and expand beyond classical notions of creating architecture.

We notice this preoccupation in the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, titled Reporting From the Front, curated by Alejandro Aravena at La Biennale di Venezia. The exhibition links architecture to broader concerns of society such as migration, segregation, traffic, waste and pollution, inequalities, peripheries, natural disasters, housing shortage. These represent “urgent issues facing the whole of humanity”, as Alejandro Aravena puts it, “not just problems that only interest architects”, but a broader audience. The focus pivots from the architecture in society to the humanitarian role of the architect as a social figure.

I wonder what if instead of designing impressive expensive buildings, our real preoccupation would focus more on innovating living conditions. This seems to me it could be the real challenge for contemporary architecture and society.

The basis of architecture practice is not only about building with less money, low cost solutions, using common materials, but about an ethic of working and an ethic of how to understand society. This is the change in the future of architecture I believe in.

EurStrat: You imply that architecture should be about more than the architect and hers or his self-expression. In a way, you believe your profession can play a more “universal role” and is part of a society. I imagine that this isn’t a generally acknowledged position among architects and you may well be in a minority? There are arguments, for instance, that public’s sense of aesthetics should not at all guide architecture or that architects should concentrate on “building good buildings” and not meddle in ethics or politics. What would you reply to that?

Bianca: Architecture might be seen often as an autonomous discipline, but it is an arena where investment, communications, marketing and other fields come together. Moreover, built objects are only one of the various outcomes of architectural production.

We could argue to which extend architecture is political. Architecture is related to power and can serve  financial or political interests. But without financial cover, architects appear insignificant actors in this highly complex process of design of the built environment. And despite its image of avant-garde creativity, the making of architecture remains a game in which architects cultivate those with financial power in return for commissions. But the challenge for architects is to find means in which they can use their awareness not to simply produce new buildings on demand, but rather to participate to a better, in a social sense, above all, environment. An ethical architect and citizen should not lose the focus on the social responsibility beyond practice and his role as a mediator between the investors, planners, the public and users.

EurStrat: How do you contrast this present role of the architect to the one in the past? To those who aren’t experts, it may seem that “back then”, people simply used to build houses in the same manner as their neighbours. Were architects back then commissioned only by the rich or, for example, by the feudal or government authorities to undertake larger constructions?

It is true that in the past, but nowadays too, monuments and iconic, representative buildings have been created as a symbol of power. These are also the kinds of projects that attract largest budgets. But I do not believe that these are necessarily the true values of architecture, at least not in our present times where maybe 90% of the people do not even afford architects. Like I previously stated, the first role of architecture is to fulfil the needs of society by creating places to work and live. I wonder what if instead of designing impressive expensive buildings, our real preoccupation would focus more on innovating living conditions. This seems to me it could be the real challenge for contemporary architecture and society.

Cities are now run more than ever on a business approach and gentrification practices have driven cities to be successful in the global market. In Romania, for example, the restoration of the old town centres during the last years has been received very positively. But it was very soon after that urban strategies followed the model of the other European cities and their focus on capital interest in the detriment of the interests of citizens. These approaches have given way to mass consumerism, reducing the city centre to a global advertising board, turning citizens into consumers and pushing them to the periphery of the city’s civic life.

EurStrat: Our conversation also relates to the nature of contemporary European cities. Do you think that cities, towns and their centres have changed a lot in the last decades? Some people speak of their commercialisation, while others mention what at first looks aș opposite trends of pauperisation and gentrification. How can we understand this?

Bianca: Robert E. Park in his book On Social Control and Collective Behaviour asserts that man’s most successful attempt is to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself.

Accordingly to Park’s statement, what if in order to interpret the changes you mention we assist to in cities, we look firstly to understand what kind of people we are, our present behaviour, needs, desires, social relations, aesthetic values or technological demands and how these elements model the city. Indeed, the incredible transformations on people’s lifestyle that the last decades have brought a major impact on the quality of urban life and therefore the city itself. Consumerism and tourism have become major aspects of the urban political economy. Along the same lines, the city centre has become a catalyst for consumption, tourism and leisure, concentrating restaurants, shops, fashion and cultural-based industries.

I feel that it is only very recent that we feel the repercussions of such behaviour. Cities are now run more than ever on a business approach and gentrification practices have driven cities to be successful in the global market. In Romania, for example, the restoration of the old town centres during the last years has been received very positively. But it was very soon after that urban strategies followed the model of the other European cities and their focus on capital interest in the detriment of the interests of citizens. These approaches have given way to mass consumerism, reducing the city centre to a global advertising board, turning citizens into consumers and pushing them to the periphery of the city’s civic life.

EurStrat: On the other hand, people in towns and citizens are becoming increasingly more active. I don’t mean only political activism, charities or voluntary work, but for instance both performing and performance art. How do you see such developments and do they add something to our urban landscapes and public space?

Bianca: In the contemporary context defined by the privatization of life we mentioned earlier, or by new forms of public spaces that are emerging, like the internet, we could question to what extent we still use public space.

I have recently frequented a series of live music concerts organized by independent musicians in Paris and I questioned exactly the same thing you bring up. People are very active and willing to express, share, participate and gather. And all this is very enriching. At the same time, there is a need for physical spaces where artists and basically all citizens can meet. Art is reclaiming public space and is reshaping cultural landscapes in cities today.

Public space today is often used for public gatherings which engage various kinds of performances and artistic expressions. And this is such a great quality that cannot be ‘designed’, but through design the use of such spaces can be encouraged.

It is not only about creative activities, but about the everyday liveliness which is absolutely essential for the social vitality of cities and societies.

Bianca Gioada (30)

- Graduated with Master's Degree in Architectural Design of Ion Mincu University, Romania, and studied Master of Human Settlement at Katolieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.
- Works as an architect in Manal Rachdi Oxo Architectes, Paris, and previously at Moussafir Architectes and Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes, France.
- In her projects, she focuses on urban regeneration and puts emphasis on creating "spaces, events, and places for living" rather than "just" buildings.

*Interview conducted by Stanislav Máselník

European Commission’s neoliberal agenda in France: weaker employee rights

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If you are following political developments in France a bit, you couldn’t have missed the recent waves of massive strikes and protests that hit the Hexagon. The cause is Hollande’s government push for “reforms” to the labour law. Obviously, the word reforms here stands for a range of measures in line with neoliberal tenets that take away rights from employees and give them to corporations. Namely, allowing less favourable local agreements on wages (to undermine collective bargaining of national trade unions) or making it easier to hire and fire staff. Crucially, the French government decide to invoke Article 49.3 of the Constitution that gives it the power to bypass parliament and impose reforms by decree. That way it also sidestepped critics in its own ranks, such as Parti socialist MP Laurent Baumel, who called the move ‘anti-democratic’ and labelled it as ‘a heavy-handed way of using the constitution to prevent the nation’s representatives from having their say.’

What is less apparent is that the French government’s attack on employee rights has a European dimension. Revealed recently by the association Corporate Europe Observatory, the European Commission is using all its new powers gained after the financial crisis of 2008 to move France in the direction of ‘liberalisation of labour code’. ‘Simply put, France has been required flat out to ensure higher profitability for businesses by driving down wages,’ say the authors of the study. For those interested in how the European Union stands on the side of austerity and neoliberalism, this is an interesting read that shouldn’t be missed.

Dostoyevsky 125 years on: secret yearnings of the human soul

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125 years ago on 9 February 1881 died arguably the most well-known Russian novelist in Europe, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский). What should a today’s reader remember about him as a writer, thinker and a man?

In his vast work consisting of 11 novels, three novellas, 17 short stories and many other publications, Dostoyevsky depicted a staggering amount of social plots and characters. What they share is not just the urban and rural backdrop of the tsarist Russia, but Dostoyevsky’s ceaseless pursuit to understand the human soul. And no wonder, already during Belle Époque intellectual circles in European cafés considered that the Russians with their “great soul” are particularly apt at perceiving the fragile and complex fabric of our anima. The vastness of Siberia, chill of continental winters, and constant threat of a foreign invasion from several directions explains the emergence of tsarist autocracy. But perhaps it also led the Russians to start being strongly attuned to suffering and passing moments of happiness. In this Dostoyevsky’s writing is exemplary: with the same blow, his work can put the human soul at the top of a pedestal of virtue and ethics, only to strike it down the very next moment to the abyss of despair, insanity, or petty day-to-day maliciousness.

The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky’s last novel, is such a work. Sons to a debauched father, who spent his life as a womanizer and careless buffoon, capture in their personalities different aspects of Russian character. Dmitri seems like the national archetype, a sensualist with a short temper but a warm heart, contrasting him to haughty intellectual Ivan, who is actually concerned for humanity to such an extent that it leads him to reject God as the ultimate cause of grief and misery. Dostoyevsky’s Christian ideal is clearly in the third brother, caring Alyosha. Alyosha does not deny there is suffering, but tries to sublimate it through help, compassion and perceiving the good even in the shades of darkness.

In The Brothers Karamazov, human yearnings reach their full play. The seductive beauty of Grushenka, a woman whose abuse by a Polish officer had led her to torment men, sparks off a vicious struggle between a son and father for her attention. Proud and beautiful Katerina, on the other hand, is trying to save her fiancé Dmitri from himself. Even if that means creating a barrier between her and Ivan, the two of them sharing an actual, yet hidden love. Next to these colourful characters, Alyosha’s good nature might seem such that his personality is almost disappearing. This makes a parallel between him and Count Myshkin, the hero of another novel, The Idiot. Both are Dostoyevsky’s answer to what he saw as problems of his age: that much suffering is created if one gives in too greatly to human passions and relies on rationality alone to solve complex social ills. The political manifestation of this was for Dostoyevsky in nihilism and socialism, as portrayed on the revolutionaries of The Possessed. But human psyché is thus not just in politics; the effort to uproot and reorganise all social structures is only one consequence of it.

The Russian author tried to demonstrate that we eternally, perpetually yearn for bliss, satisfaction and perfection, but the struggle to reach them here and now fuels rifts, conflicts and creates even more destruction. My happiness might be your doom, as Dmitri realises as hid madness deepens from the thought that Grushenka may “fall into his father’s clutches”. The ancient Greeks understood this very well too, but unlike Dostoyevsky they saw the conflict as without a resolution and not needing any higher justification than itself. Life could be regarded as beautiful nevertheless, because its greatness and its misery portray one whole, a piece of art that is a tragedy. In one of the highly memorable quotes from The Brothers Karamazov Dmitri observes that “[t]he awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” Dostoyevsky therefore agrees with the premise that human passions clash; even in beauty darkness and the light are intertwined. Yet for him this conflict can be reconciled in God, specifically in (Orthodox) Christianity. While human beings cannot entirely forgive injustices, Christ did and can. The best one can do, Dostoyevsky believes, is therefore approximating our behaviour to the Christian ideal, which is the background of the characters of Myshkin and Alyosha. Their strength of character is not supposed to be “diminished”, but to offer a glimpse of a different form of acting: understanding and letting people reach their potential for goodness, rather than a constant effort to impose one’s will and subject others to the individual’s schemes and plans.

In Ivan, who represents Western modernity, we are offered strong rebukes to Orthodox Christianity. Ivan rejects Christianity, because even if God existed, he says, he could not love humanity at all: meaningless pain and sorrow that he creates are without excuse, particularly for children who could not yet even commit any sin. Chapter 4 of the book contains this horrifying paragraph, narrated by Ivan to Alyosha:

“There was a little girl of five who was hated by her mother and father. . . . This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty—shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy [outhouse], and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans!

Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark in the cold and weep her meek, unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted?”

Where was God then? asks Ivan. To press this point further, he also tells to Alyosha a Biblical apocrypha about grand inquisitor, which since then became known as a story on its own. (The reader can see it below in the riveting performance of John Gielgud in the 1975 short film from the Open University.)

In this story happening during the times of Spanish inquisition, Christ again walks the earth, performing miracles. But the grand inquisitor puts him behind the bars, claiming that Jesus interrupted their work. He is not needed; he is actually the reason behind human misery, the inquisitor tells him. Instead of offering humans bread, guidance in the form of earthly rule, and certainty of afterlife, he only gave them freedom. And that freedom, the inquisitor says, is good for nothing, because it cannot satiate passions and needs. With freedom, human beings will only go after each other’s necks. Perhaps Christ therefore did not love humanity at all, when he put on them such otherworldly demands, Ivan and the grand inquisitor say together. To that Jesus replies only by a kiss.

I will leave the reader to make his or hers own conclusions. What is clear is that the author of The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, or short stories such as The Meek One or The Gambler was always dominated by the quest to understand what is happening in human minds, hearts and souls. Perhaps this might give us a few thoughts to ponder about even in the digital 21st century?

 

-Stanislav Máselník

(updated on 19 February 2016)

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